Wigtownshire 8, Helensburgh 26
THE final score was no reflection on the course of a match ruined by the introduction of non-contested scrums during the first half when the visiting hooker was injured and had to leave the field.
Helensburgh had no replacement front-row forward hence the non-scrums. The score at half-time was 6-5 for the visitors and after 30 minutes of the second half Helensburgh led 13-8.
The sad fact is that, prior to the non-contested scrums, the Shire pack were well on top in the tight, pushing them back yards at every scrum.
And so, had the scrums remained competitive, it is highly likely that the visiting forwards would have been badly mauled by the powerful ‘Shire pack and out on their feet, especially in the second half.
The visiting backs would also have seen less of the ball. Non-contested scrums have proved controversial since they were introduced and, on Saturday, certainly robbed Wigtownshire of a powerful and potentially match-winning weapon in their armoury.
Many argue that it should be the team which fails to produce a replacement front-row forward that should be penalised.
Shire attacked from the start and it was obvious that their defeat against the same opponents earlier in the season at Helensburgh was forgotten. ‘Shire were at full strength and put the visitors under pressure from the start. The pack was destroying the opposing eight in the tight and loose and the fast Burgh backs were seeing little of the ball. After nine minutes, however, the visitors took the lead against the run of play when a simple penalty was converted.
Shire were conceding too many penalties for offside, which was badly affecting the continuity of their play and, of course, the introduction of non-contested scrums severely disrupted their momentum. Another promising move started by full-back Wilson looked promising until a wild misdirected pass ended the movement.
With 35 minutes played, the visitors kicker, who was in very good form, kicked his second penalty to put the visitors further ahead.
Shire continued to fight for a score and they were rewarded just before half-time when a penalty was awarded under the posts.
They decided to go for broke with a tap-penalty and were rewarded when the forwards drove over the line to score and Shire arrived at the interval just a point adrift.
Shire were playing good expansive rugby but were making things difficult for themselves by conceding penalties – the count in the first half was 13–4 in favour of Helensburgh.
The second half began with ‘Shire still showing plenty of desire to take play to the visitors and the forwards were taking charge with rolling mauls, forcing Helensburgh to defend desperately.
They somehow kept Shire out with massed defence. Several times Shire forwards were just yards short of the line but the visitors’ line held.
After 50 minutes, Wilson kicked a simple penalty in front of the posts to put Shire ahead for the first time, but the lead lasted just three minutes when the visitors struck back with a converted try after some slick handling by their backs to make the score 13-8.
And two penalties in two minutes with around ten minutes left to play made the score 19-8 for the visitors and put the game almost beyond Shire.
The home forwards tried another tap-and-drive penalty but to no avail. They spent almost five minutes camped on the Helensburgh line but could not get the vital touchdown.
With the referee about to reach for his whistle to end the game, Helensburgh scored their second try, which was converted to make the final score 26-8 in their favour.
One had to feel for the Shire players at the end. They had played with tremendous guts and determination and no little skill, but still lost by 18 points.
This team has a settled look about it and, if they can eliminate the tendency to give away penalties with such regularity and get the final pass to hand, they could beat any side in the league.
The forwards were heroes all, with Neil Irving and Jason McKie prominent and Keith McNeil making his presence felt.
The backs tried to use the possession effectively and their defence was magnificent.
Helensburgh went away with points, but they were fortunate. Next week Shire travel to Lenzie.
Wigtownshire: T Wilson; M Clark, J McIntosh, D McCaig, N Warwick; A Farquhar (capt) J Patterson; M Hastie, G Keith, A Love, K McNeil, M McConnell, J McKie, E Stevenson and N Irving. Subs: J Montgomery K Little and A McMaster.